The spring game was billed as maybe the biggest recruiting event in Oregon history. Top prospects from across the country were courted like kings, as Oregon looked to move back into the upper echelon of the recruiting rankings. ScoopDuck predicted that the Ducks would come out of the weekend with as many as nine new commits, more than tripling the size of the class.
But alas, only two pulled the trigger.
What’s going on with the Ducks’ 2020 class? With plenty of other programs already on the board with more than 10 commits, maybe things aren’t as rosy on the recruiting trail as the experts would have you believe.
How the Ducks’ Weekend Really Went
Here are the facts. The spring game showcase was a big success … depending on how you look at it.
For fans who expected a dozen commits from top-100 recruits, the weekend was a letdown. But the Oregon coaches are realistic, and their motive wasn’t to fill up the class in just a couple of days. Instead, they hoped to use the spring game to get a bunch of their high-priority targets on campus to either make up ground in races where they trailed or to close in on prospects that had the Ducks as favorites.
From this perspective, Oregon did just that.
Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei was the crowning jewel of the visitor list, and although Clemson is still the favorite, the Ducks did enough to make the race interesting. Both 247Sports and ScoopDuck report that the Ducks closed the gap about as much as they could in just a few days. Prior to the spring game, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Uiagalelei would sign with the Tigers. Now, the Ducks at least have a fighter’s chance.
Beyond Uiagalelei, the Ducks were able to get their second choice for quarterback, four-star Jay Butterfield, on campus as well. The Ducks are turning up the heat on Butterfield — a top-100 prospect* in his own right — and early indications are that he’s very interested. (*Prospect ratings according to 247Sports’ composite rankings.) ScoopDuck reports that Oregon has been straightforward with him, explaining that Uiagalelei is its first choice. But with the five-star looking elsewhere, the Ducks don’t want to miss out on a second premier player out west, especially one who would be one of the highest rated quarterbacks to ever sign with them.
But while fans typically focus on which quarterback their team will take, the strength of the Ducks’ 2020 class will largely depend on who they get in the secondary. The Ducks have room to sign a decent crop of cornerbacks and safeties, and they used the spring game to narrow their search. Right now, there are many more interested prospects than spots available. So it was critical for Oregon to get legitimate targets on campus and gauge their interests.
This past Friday, the first of those targets committed. Four-star cornerback Luke Hill pledged to the Ducks after visiting during the spring game, and his commitment puts the Ducks in a great spot at the position. Hill is a top-150 prospect, joining top-100 prospect Avantae Williams in what is shaping up to be a very talented group.
Another prospect whom the staff really likes and also hosted for the spring game is Myles Slusher, a four-star safety from Big 12 country. Word on the street is that he’s a silent commit at this point, and it’s only a matter of time before he officially announces.
But he had better commit soon, because behind him is a bunch of players who are ready to take his spot if they act quickly enough. Jared Greenfield is a high-ranking three-star safety who is a major Oregon lean. He might even be the next Duck commit, with both 247Sports and ScoopDuck predicting he will eventually end up in yellow and green. He has his official announcement date set for June 10th, but he’ll have to speed up his timetable if dominoes start falling.
To round out the position group, Makell Esteen, a high-ranking three-star cornerback, is another prospect whom the Ducks are favored to land. Oregon will still have some room available, especially with bigger-name prospects still on the horizon like Clark Phillips III, Elijah Badger and Dorian Green-Warren.
These players should form the foundation of a secondary that will lead the Ducks for years to come. Without the big spring game weekend, Oregon wouldn’t be in such an advantageous position.
A Couple of Four-Stars Join the Flock
Generating positive momentum with top prospects is nice. Getting commitments from them is even better, and on the spring game weekend edge defender Jaden Navarrette flipped his commitment from LSU to Oregon. It was a pretty rapid change of events that few saw coming, at least not so suddenly. Navarrette had just committed to the Tigers a few days prior to switching — a sign that the Ducks really blew him away.
The four-star outside linebacker is a perfect fit in the Ducks’ new 3-3-5 defense, as he has the pass-rushing capability to be an excellent “STUD” linebacker and the athleticism to play in coverage. ScoopDuck’s evaluation has him as a transcendent talent in the same athletic vein as DJ Johnson. Players like him don’t show up out west often, so the fact that the Ducks were able to snag him away from a premier program like LSU speaks volumes about their growth as a program.
Joining Navarrette was Kris Hutson, a four-star slot receiver with offers from nearly every Pac-12 school, including USC. However, although he has the rating of a premier talent, the jury is still out on the diminutive playmaker. The Ducks weren’t exactly blown away by his tape, and with a player of such short stature, coaches are looking for more elite traits and game-breaking athleticism.
Many are wondering whether the Ducks are interested in him for his play or for his being a teammate of Uiagalelei at St. John Bosco. Was this a last-ditch effort by Cristobal to entice Uiagalelei to commit? Hutson is a good player, but maybe his rating is inflated just a bit by playing with a superstar quarterback and a loaded roster. And maybe the Ducks are willing to settle for a solid but unspectacular player if it means it increases their chances of getting their dream quarterback.
In any case, with a good offer sheet and decent potential, Hutson brings value to a wide receiver group that can use all the help it can get.
What About the Big Names?
For all of the good news that came from the spring game, there is some bad news to discuss too. Currently, the Ducks have just one commit ranked in the top 100, and right now, it doesn’t look likely that they will improve upon that number significantly.
The best prospect that the Ducks are close to securing is five-star receiver Johnny Wilson. The 6’6 physical specimen came out for the spring game and nearly left as an Oregon commit. Barring any major surprises, Wilson will likely be the Ducks’ highest-ranking signee in 2020. He has been an Oregon lean for a while, and the question is not if he will commit, but when.
But outside of him (who many expect to end up as a high four-star when all is said and done), the Ducks aren’t faring too well with some of their other elite (top-100) targets, which has them settling for some lower-ranked alternatives. Three-stars Carson Breuner, Kobe Pepe and Trey Benson are a few examples of decent prospects whom the Ducks have turned their attention to in the wake of recent developments. This isn’t to say that Oregon has given up hope in its pursuit of players like Justin Flowe, Sav’ell Smalls or Kendall Milton. But right now, the Ducks aren’t in the driver’s seat for any of them.
In that respect, it’s accurate to say that things aren’t as fantastic as initially believed. The Ducks are still on track to sign a very good, maybe even top-15 class. And they’ll have a good number of four-stars, and rank near or at the top of the conference yet again. But right now, it doesn’t look like the 2020 class will have as much top-end star power as the 2019 class, with five top-100 players and a top-five JUCO recruit as well, did.
Still, guys like Wilson are nothing to sneer at. And with the efforts of their big weekend already paying off, there’s no reason to panic. Oregon is still king out west on the recruiting trail, and that doesn’t look to be changing any time soon.
Joshua Whitted Top Photo by Kevin Cline
Morgantown, West Virginia
And a special thanks to the experts and insiders at 247Sports and ScoopDuck, who provide fans with the best and most in-depth Oregon recruiting news in the industry. Subscribe to each of them for premium content and the most up-to-date recruiting news.
Bob Rodes, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is an IT analyst, software developer and amateur classical pianist in Manchester, Tennessee.
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